tv PBS News Hour PBS May 17, 2013 10:00pm-11:01pm PDT
captioning sponsored by macneil/lehrer productions >woodruff: the outgoing acting head of thi.r.s. faced a blistering round of questions from lawmakers today, over his agency's improper targeting of conservative groups. good evening, i'm judy woodruff. >> brown: and i'm jeffrey brown. on the "newshour" tonight, we have extended excerpts of today's hearing: the partisan jousting and the push to learn what happened and who was responsible. >> woodruff: then, margaret warner reports on the pentagon's moves to deal with the growing outrage over sexual assaults in the military-- a problem the secretary of defense said today he will do everything necessary to fix.
>> brn: mk shields and dad brooks analyze the week's news. plus, a special report with our own macneil and lehrer on covering the watergate hearings. >> good evening from washington. in a few moments, we're going to bring you the entire proceedings in the first day of the senate watergate hearings. >> we are running it all each day because we think these hearings are important. we are doing this as an experiment to give you the whole story, however many hours it may take. >> woodruff: 40 years after the scandal that brought down an american president. robert macneil and jim lehrer rlect owateate's legacy and the gavel-to-gavel coverage that gave rise to the program you're watching tonight. >> public television was doing something that commercial networks, for all their brilliance in news, wouldn't and couldn't do. >> that was before there were things like c-span. going gavel-to-gavel, the way we were going, in the daytime and in particular, repeating it at
night. this had never happened before. >> woodruff: that's all ahead on tonight's "newshour." >> major funding for the pbs newsur has been provided by: >> i want to make things more secure. >> i want to treat more dogs. >> our business needs more cases. >> where do you want to take your business? >> i need help selling art. >> from broadband, to web hosting, to mobile apps, small business solutions from a.t.&t. can help get you there. we can show you how a.t.&t. solutions can help your business today. >> more than two years ago, the people of b.pmade a commitment to the gulf. and everyday since, we've worked hard to keep it. today, the beaches and gulf are open for everyone to enjoy. we shared what we've learned so that we can all produce energy more safely. b.p. is also committed to america.
we support nearly 250,000 jobs and invest more here than anywhere else. we're working to fuel america for generations to come. our commitment has never been stronger. >> support also comes from carnegie corporation of new york, a foundation created to do what andrew carnegie called "real and permanent good." celebrating 100 years of philanthropy at carnegie.org. >> and with the ongoing support of these institutions and foundations. and... >> this program was made possible by the corporation for public broadcasting. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you >> woodruff: congress today formally launched the first of its investigations into the
furor swirling around the internal revenue service. the star witness was the official who had been running the agency, until wednesday. "newshour" correspondent kwame holman has our report. >> reporter: steven miller-- the man forced out as acting head of the i.r.s.-- began by acknowledging failures. >> first and foremost, as acting commissioner, i want to apogize on behalf of the internal revenue service for the mistakes that we made and the poor service we provided. the affected organizations and the american public deserve better. partisanship or even the perception of partisanship has no place at the i.r.s. it cannot even appear to be a consideration in determining the tax exemption of an organization. >> reporter: but at the same time, miller asserted i.r.s. staffers did not act out of political motivation when they gave special scrutiny to tea party and other groups on the political right. >> i think that what happened here was that foolh mistakes were ma by ople trying to be more efficient in their workload selection.
the listing described in the report, while intolerable, was a mistake and not an act of partisanship. >> reporter: miller resigned wednesday, at the behest of treasury secretary jack lew. joseph grant, who oversees requests for tax-exempt status, also will step down. he's retiring next month. but it was clear today that neither the personnel shakeup nor apologies have calmed the storm for many, especially republicans. michigan republican dave camp chaired the house ways and ans hearing. >> the reality is this is not a personnel problem. this is a problem of the i.r.s. being too large, too powerful, too intrusive and too abusive of honest, hardworking taxpayers. >> reporter: camp, and other republicans, also argued that what happened at the i.r.s. is part of a culture of cover-ups by the obama administration. >> it seems like the truth is hidden from the american people just long enough to make it through an election.
the american people have a right to the truth, to a government that delivers the facts, good or bad, no matter what. >> reporter: the committee's top democrat, sander levin of michigan, fired back that saying that goes too far. >> i totally, totally disagree. if this hearing becomes essentially a bootstrap to continue the campaign of 2012 and to prepare for 2014, we will be making a very, very serious mistake and, indeed, not meeting our obligation of trust to the american people. >> reporter: today's hearing is just the beginning of congress's examination of i.r.s. scrutiny of the tea party and other conservative groups. so far three congressional committees have announced plans to investigate.
and, on tuesday, rn general eric holder announced the justice department was looking into whether any criminal violations have taken place. so far, the main source of information about what happened is j. russell george, a treasury department inspector general. his report, released this week, singled out the i.r.s. office in cincinnati that screens applications for tax exemptions. >> i.r.s. employees actually began selecting tea party and other organizations for review in early 2010. >> reporter: george said the practice lasted about 18 months, and he blamed ineffective management. he said i.r.s. officials told him they were not under any political pressure to act. washingn democrat jim mcdermott pursued th conclusn. >> thinspectogeneral's report says that no one acted out of malice or political motivation. mr. george, i want to know, do you still stand by that? >> we have no evidence at this time to contradict that assertion, sir. >> reporter: in fact, steven miller argued that even the term
"targeting" isai he said, the cincinnati office was simply overwhelmed when applications from tea party groups exploded. >> what happened here is that someone saw some tea party cases come through. they were acknowledging that thewere going to be engagedn politics. this was the time frame in 2010 when citizens united was out. there was a lot of discussion in the system about the use of 401(c)(4)s. people in cincinnati decided, i've mentioned, we have a limited number of people, 140 to 200, that work on the 70,000 applications that come in for tax-exempt status. >> reporter: republican mike kelly of pennsylvania complained the i.r.s. would never accept that kind of explanation from any business. >> you're not allowed to be shoddy, you're not allowed to be run horribly, you're not allowed to make mistakes, you're not allowed to do one damn thing that doesn't come in compliance. if you do, you're held responsible right then. i just think the american people have seen what's ing right now in their government. this is absolutely an overreach, and this is an outrage for all america. >> reporter: republicans also demanded to know why miller and others at the i.r.s. never rmedongress after theyay
of 2012. louisiana congressman charles boustany: >> you sent letters to congress acknowledging our investigation of these allegations, but consistently omitted that such discriminatory practices that are alleged were actually, in fact, taking place. why did u mislead congress and the american people on this? >> mr. chairman, i did not mislead congress nor the american people. i answered the questions as they were asked. >> reporter: and california congressman devin nunes wanted to know why miller did not fight to keep his job, if he feels that way. >> you've said that numerous times on the record today that you did nothing wrong. so i find it hard to believe, why did you resign? or why are you resigning? >> i never said i didn't do anything wrong, mr. nunes. what i said is contained in the questions.
i resigned because as the acting commissioner, what happens in the i.r.s., whether i was personally involved or not, stops at my desk. and so i should be held accountable for what happens. whether i was personally involved or not are very different questions, sir. >> reporter: democrats at the hearing rejected claims of wider corruption in the obama administration, but they agreed that political neutrality at the i.r.s. must be beyond question. >> we're all outraged. we're all upset about this. i don believe, nor do any of my colleagues believe, that any organization-- political organization should be targeted solely because of their thought. that's on both sides of the spectrum. >> let me tee off of something, mr. miller, you said. you said, "foolish mistakes were made." i think the president actually said it better. he said that the handling of those tax-exempt applications in that process at the i.r.s. was outrageous and intolerable. no excuse.
>> reporter: and as the four hour hearing drew to a close, there came a pledge from the chairman. >> i promise the american people, this investigation has just begun. >> reporter: the senate finance committee formally begins its investigation with a hearing next tuesday. >> brown: still to come on the "newshour": outrage over sexual assaults in the military; shields and brooks on the week's news and macneil and lehrer on covering watergate. but first, the other news of the day. here's hari sreenivasan. >> sreenivasan: wall street finished this friday with its fourth strait week of gains, aer new sig of pe aut the economy. one was a report that found consumer confidence is higher than expected. the dow jones industrial average added 121 points today to close at 15,354. the nasdaq rose more than 33 points to close at nearly 3,499. for the week, both the dow and the nasdaq gained more than 1.5% this day was tn
iraq in morthht months. at least 76 people died in a series of explosions that struck sunni muslim areas, stoking fears that sectarian violence will spiral out of control. the worst was in baqouba-- northeast of baghdad. ambulances sped through blood- stained streets after twin explosions ripped through a crowd of sunni worshippers, killing more than 40. today's attacks followed violence that killed more than 50 shi-ites earlier this week. two sunni mosques were targeted in pakistan today as worshipers gathered for friday prayers. twin bombings in a village in the northwest killed at least 15 people and wounded more than 70 others. there was no immediate claim of responsibility. it was widely reported today that russia has sent the syrian government advanced anti-ship missiles. they' said toe ouitted with advanced radar to make them more effective. the sale came despite u.s. pleas to moscow to stop giving military aid to syrian president bashar al-assad. but in russia today, foreign minister sergei lavrov said his country is merely fulfilling contracts.
>> ( translated ): i don't understand why the media are trying to make this look like a sensation. we have never hidden the fact that we are supplying syria with arms, in line with earlier signed contracts which do not breach any international treaties or russian laws, which are some of the strictest in the world in terms of export controls. >> sreenivasan: u.s. secretary of state john kerry had raised the issue of arms transfers to syria during his visit in moscow earlier this month. at the state department today, spokeswoman jen psaki said what he said then, holds true today. >> the secretary himself said this just two weeks ago. we remain concerned about any aid that is being provided to help the syrian regime by the russians or anyone else. including any form of missiles. that's a concern we've expressed publicly and the secretary and others have expressed privately as well. >> sreenivasan: in another development, human rights watch researchers have found physical evidence of torture in syrian government prisons. the group said one device
stretched or bent victims' arms and legs. it was found in raqqa, in eastern syria, a city now under rebel control. the researchers also found documents showing people were detained for demonstrating or helping injured people. those are some of the day's major stories. now, back to jeff. >> brown: the issue of sexual assault in the military was back in the spotlight today at the pentagon. margaret warner reports. >> warner: defense secretary chuck hagel and joint chiefs chairman martin dempsey offered no new solutions to the military's sexual assault crisis at today's much anticipated pentagon briefing. hagel did vow once again to do everything necessary to address the problem. >> we've in many ways failed. the problem will be solved here in this institution and we will fix it and we will do everything we need to do to fix it. there's not a military leader who was in that room who's not completely committed to that. >> warner: the press conference comes on the heels of a recent
pentagon survey estimating that 26,000 military members were sexually assaulted last year-- a significant jump from 2011. yet only 3,400 of those assaults were actually reported by the victims. >> there is no silver bullet to solving this problem. >> warner: president obama had some stern words yesterday after summoning hagel, dempsey and other senior military leaders to the white house. >> they care about this. and they're angry about it, and i heard directly from all of them that they're ashamed by some of what's happened. >> warner: underscoring that some in congress say the solution lies partly outside their ranks. a bi-partisan group of senators led by new york democrat kirsten gillibrand introduced legislation this week removing commanders from deciding whether to prosecute any serious crime, including sexual assault. >> today we're standing on a united front to take on these this issues on with new
leg fundamentally remove the decision making from the chain f command d gives that discretions tan eerienced military prosecutor where it belongs. too often, these brave men and >> warner: in two recent, high- profile cases, air force generals threw out convictions of sexual misconduct. today joint chiefs chairman dempsey said that a decade of war may have undermined accountability on sexual assault. >> you might argue that we've become a little too forgiving because you know if a perpetrator shows up at a court marshal with a rack of ribbons and hasour deployments and a purple heart. there is certainly a risk that we might be a little too forgiving of that particular crime. >> warner: but he appeared to push back against the gillebrand proposal, saying: >> in our system we give a commander life and death decisions making authority. i can't imagine going forward solving this issues with out the commanders involved.
>> warner: hagel suggested more openness on the question. >> we're looking at everything, and yes, we're listening to victims carefully. >> warner: other proposed bills in the senate would improve record keeping of sexual misconduct complaints and create new standards for filling sexual assault prevention positions in the military. that second point has come into sharp relief lately, with the removal of two of those officials. the first-- lieutenant colonel jeffrey krusinski-- headed the air force sexual assault prevention program until he was arrested on charges of sexual battery. and this week, it was disclosed that an army sergeant who handled sexual assault cases at fort hood, texas is being criminally investigated on sex crime allegations. secretary hagel today released >> warner: for more on this story, i'm joined by "wall street journal" pentagon reporter julian barnes. julian, welcome. you were at that press conference today. parse this for us. how did you read their response
to this growing pressure on the hill? >> well, they are clearly open to some of these reforms. you saw just a few weeks ago they were pushing back much more firmly on senat senate senator gillibrand's proposal saying that military commanders needed to retain this authority. secretary hagel said today that open to options where they're reviewing the proposals. we also heard from the air force chief of staff today who said he personally supported it and that's been a shift in the military. they see the writing on the wall. >> warner: especially coming from the air force. but did you detect any difference between joint chiefs chairman dempsey and secretary hagel on this question? >> well, your piece pointed out just so and there is a little difference there. the military has wanted to preserve their justice system as it is, which gives it an enormous amount of power to commanders.
they can decide whether cases go forward. they can vacate sentences and convictions afterwards. now there's been a series of high-profile cases where those convictions have been vacated and there's been a huge backlash from congress. there's no way the system is going to stay the way it is. >> warner: do you think, though, that secretary hagel and the president could be caught between the military brass and sort the demands from the public and the hill? >> um, there's a possibility of that but we have seen over the last few weeks as this scandal has continued that the military is slowly shifting there was two months ago resis tones any change in the military justice system. week by week they are coming on board to the congressional. >> warner: now tell us what's behind -- not what's behind. but secretary hagel did today issue the written directive for what he said two days ago which is we're going to rescreenll
these sexual assault prevention -- not just officers but everybody involved and all the recruiters. how rigorous -- first of all, what are they looking for there and how rigorous is it going to be? >> well, i think now it's going to be quite rigorous. i mean, i think if you look back in the past this was not an issue that the military put the highest priority on. things have changed now. the military is making this their top priority. you heard general odierno talk about it. you heard secretary hagel talk about it and, most importantly, the president. so where y might have had maybe not your top-notch people in these jobs, i think more and more we're going to see the best and brightest get assigned these duties. >> warner: which hasn't been the case up till now, you mean. if you had a superstar or a budding superstar you weren't going to make him or her the sexual abuse prevention officer. >> that's right. and now they're going to take the top noncommissioned officers and say, hey, in addition to this duty you'll do this because
it's the army's top priority. >> warner: now, that proposal of gillibrand's, some of the others on the hill, wat tey're talking about today all deal with what to do after some assault has occurred. but is there concern in the pentagon that there's aper problem with the basic military climate and culture? what are you hearing about that? >> very much so. and the military officers are acknowledging that. that there is a cultural shift that needs to be made and you've heard them talk about this. but this is a difficult thing to change. it's a difficult thing to ferret out. where is there a locker room mentality and attitude that may sort of signal to so people that it's okay to do some of this stuff which, in fact, is a crime. and, you know, it's war-fighting culture and sometimes that crosses the line in other ways and so changing it is difficult. you want to keep people's -- hone their edges as -- in combat but still make sure that they
are, you know, following the law, being respectful, and not, you know, objectifying any group of people. >> warner: including women. you heard -- it was joint chiefs chairman dempsey responded to the question about both alcohol as a factor and a sort of decade of war. what do the -- what's he really talking about there and what what do the reported cases at least say about the involvement of those two factors? >> well, they're -- they're important in two ways here. we -- you know, there are no easy answers in sexual assault, what causes it, why we've seen a spike. it's very similar to the military's suicidessuein that respect. these are complex issues, they have roots both in the military and in the wider culture. a decade of war has led to soldiers, marines, airmen, sailors, coming back strained.
and some n some cases isolated. some of those things can lead to the abuse of drugs or alcohol. that has been shown to make incidents of sexual abuse, assault, more prevalent. so that's issue one. does it increase the incident? then there'slsth issue of when these get prosecuted. does a commander say "hey, look, this guy's been through a lot, this guy has been blown up in iraq, blown up in afghanistan, we're going to cut him some slack"? certainly happens on nonsexual assault cases. a shoplifting, a bar fight. >> warner: really? >> but now they're saying we're not going to let this happen when it comes to sexual assault. we're going to have a zero tolerance policy. >> warner: julian barnes, "wall street journal," thank you. >> thank you. >> woodruff: and to the analysis of shields and brooks, syndicated columnist mark
shields and "new york times" columnist david brooks. so, gentlemen, it's only been one week but three giant headaches for the obama administration, for the president. david david, let's take them one by one. the i.r.s., this hearing today. two completely different points of view on what happened. whom are we to believe? >> well, i think we just don't know. one of the things we don't know is who +*eupbs dated this. was there lobbying from capitol hill on instigating this? second, who knew it when? the treasury department did they know it? did anybody in the white house know it? how up in the i.r.s. did they know it? did they give maybe not completely false testimony but non-forthcoming testimony. and then the final thing-- which we may know a little bit more about after today and after the report-- is what it political thuggery or obliviousness. i think the evidence on the latter issue is probably it was a little more toward oblivious. you had a group of technocrats who had become so abstracted and
removed from political reality it wasn't blindingly obvious to them that if you target tea party groups that will look like political thuggery. it looks like that was more the explanation. >> woodruff: mark, more like obliviousness than political targeting? >> as of now i would say, that judy. it -- if the words instead of tea party and "9/12" were, in fact, "choice" "reproductive freedom" "peace" "feminist" and they were scrutinizing those i think you'd hear a cry, an understandable outcry from those on the left-hand side of the political equation. and this plays right in to this whole story plays right into the republican wheel house that what the conservatives have long argued-- that the government is too big, the government is too intrusive, the government cannot be trusted, the government can be evil.
and i think that respects the greatest threat to this administration right now and i think that's what the administration has failed to get on top of so far. >> warner: what do you mean failed to get on top of? >> i just compare the president's passive approach. he was detached at the outset. he did grow more active and involved as the week went on. he learned about this in the news reports last friday even though we found out -- >> warner: from the inspector general. >> the inspector general that two weeks earlier that the white house counsel had had at least an outline of a report on the very thing. what we're looking for, quite honestly, is a president who steps up and says "this is on my watch. this is my responsibility." not unlike what president kennedy did at the time of the bay of pigs when he said simply that defeat is an orphan and victory has a hundred fathers. it was good politics and it's good policy to take that kind of leadership and that responsibility.
i think he should have appointed a independent counsel and i think -- because, judy, confidence is n government is eroded. it hurts not simply government. it hurts not only the country. it hurts the democratic party which believes that government is an instrument of social justice and economic progress. >> woodruff: so, david, how much is it the president's responsibility? because people keep looking for direct connection with the white house and there's a question so far about where that is or what that is. >> right, well, i think mark makes the right distinction. this is not so far about the white house, it's not about the political fortunes of president obama. it's not even about the political fortunes of attorney general eric holder, these three scandals. it is about government and trust and trust in government and i think it's more a management issue. a management values issue. president obama can't control the millions of people who work for the government but leaders of agencies can say, listen, we're in government to do good but we have to understand that power corrupts and those of us who go into government tend to like to control other people. we tend to like to run other
people's lives. and we have to be extremely restrained about how we use our power. we have to be extremely sensitive that we're going to not be disinterested in the use of that power. so there has to be a culture ofk there was a culture of self-restraint at the i.r.s. i certainly don't think there was a culture of self-restraint at the department of justice where they went hog wild with this investigation into the associated press. so i think it's more, as mark says, about how government operates. and if government's going to act in an unrestrained fashion that doesn't discipline itself people are going to turn off from it. that's the core threat here. >> woodruff: so you're saying -- it sounds like that two of you are saying, mark, you can't really separate these three problems for the administration. they've all kind of come together to represent one symbolic failure. >> no, i think they're easily -- i think benghazi is essentially over. i mean, i think benghazi was trumped up, there are those who want this to be some great conspiracy. i think that has been basically
-- i'd be surprised if benghazi is still being discussed other than by darrell issa's committee in the house. >> woodruff: because the white house issued the hundreds of e-mails. >> and there's no there there. there really isn't. i think david's absolutely right about the associated press and the overreach of the justice department, the failure to consult, the failure to have a conversation, the failure to even approach. 20 phones, home phones, cell phones, chilling effect on anybody who wants to be a whistle-blower, who's got information of wrongdoing is going to think twice, three times whether, in fact, they're going to be visited by somebody from the justice department and the f.b.i. but i think the i.r.s. goes to the very trust. it's the health care act, that's -- it's a central agency in collecting all the information on the affordable care act when it comes into force and if
there's no confidence there in its integrity and confidence, that's a ale problem for this country let alone for the administration. >> woodruff: so, david, you agree this spills over into just about everything else, including health care and everything else the government does? >> absolutely. you know, if you go through the 20th century and if you ask people "do you trust government to do the right thing most of the time?" typically the numbers are about 70%. in the last ten years maybe it's 19%, 25%, somewhere down there. that fundamtal shift in the country, distrust of government, changes politics in all sorts of ways. to me it explains why the health care law remainsen popular, because people don't trust government to do something complicated for them. and this is a cynical country about government right now and this plays into that and underlines that and will reinforce that. to be fair, the tea party people and a lot of republicans have been saying "they've been targeting us" and nobody's believed them but it turns out for whatever motivation they
were more or less right. if i could make one point about benghazi where i agree with mark abou thealking points of benghazi. that's a non-scandal. basically it was a turf war between the c.i.a. and the state department and the see jay began to walk back some of their allegations. i still there's a benghazi issue on why we didn't send support troops when ambassador stevens and others were in trouble. that issue when no action was taken that could have averted some catastrophe. i think that part remains an issue. >> i think that's a legitimate area of inquiry. but i think the real problem, judy, that faces -- judy, the federal government -- if you're going to make a case for it, it abolished slavery, it ended segregation, it built the land grant colleges that have produced more nobel prize winners than all the universities of europe combined. it saved the great lakes. it took 99% of the lead out of the air. it took wanton terror out of old age through social security.
there's a case to be made for government and when government -- confidence in government and its integrity and competence is undermined, i think it's up to the president to rise to its defense and to say anybody who does this and threatenshat confiden -- and i'll add one thing to david's point and that is we're going to see jim and robin coming upton piece on watergate. that's really -- watergate and vietnam is when confidence in government which had been 75%, 80%, that i trust government to do what is right most or all of the time, that's when it really started to slide. and sadly it's never come back. >> woodruff: i was going to ask the two of you about that. so just so i understand, the two of you are saying even if it turns out-- which was what mr. miller was arguing at the i.r.s. today-- that this was foolish mistakes on the part of civil servants you're saying this could do this much damage? >> i think it's up to the president to restore that confidence. >> woodruff: and you're saying he hasn't done that? >> i think he's started to act but i don't think he's stepped up and said "this is o
watch, i'm going to get answers and i take responsibility." >> woodruff: david, how much has the president been harmd? how much has his agenda been harmed by this? >> what agenda would that? i do think he has a problem where there's a vacuum. he tried to get in front of it today by talking about speeding some infrastructure projects but that's not much of an agenda. i ink the scandals are occupying so much space because the agenda, such as it is, is down to immigration and that's being handled on capitol hill so there's no ma much of an agenda in part because of this distrust of government. and if i could say one thing about the obliviousness of the i.r.s., this is not a small matter. governments get dangerous when the people in governments lose the human context in which they are acting. when they reduce everything to abstract bureaucratic category which is i think what actually happened in the i.r.s. that's when governments begin to overstep and on mark's point about the good and the bad of government, the way i'd put it is that government is like fire. if you can marshall it, it's tremendously useful but if it's
out of control it can be tremendously harmful so i would hope the president would remind people of the two-edged sword of government. that it can do us wonderful good but if unrestrained it can do us incredible tierney. >> woodruff: and you said, mark, we're going to go from a retrospective on jim lehrer and robin mackneel, they covered the watergate hearings back in the 1970s. what are the lessons for you for watergate? a connectn to what's going on this week but in a larger sense the -- you know, the sense that that was the scandal of all scandals. >> yes, if we're going to compare it, i mean, we're talking about the boston massacre versus double parking. i mean -- this week. this is not a -- i've heard this compared that the president, in fact, senator inhofe talked about impeachment of the president which is beyond ludicrous because there's nothing that rises to any even criminal or negative effect on here. i would say this, jud that the
trust and confidence in the federal government began to end and erode and diminish when that happened. we had a president resign, we had 25 of his closest friends and allies and colleagues go to jail and it was just -- it was a shock for this country's system from which it's never really recovered. we're still to a great degree running against washington because of vietnam and watergate to a great degree. >> woodruff: david, what about watergate? >> i have a perverse relationship watergate becse i made me interested in politics. it was watching those hearings on t.v. that lit the fire for me that this was really important, that what happened in washington was tremendously important for good and evil, tests of character and virtue and it should be pointed out that in watergate we saw acts of cowardice, we saw incredible acts of courage from some of the people chasing it down and reacting with integrity. to me the aftershocks have been negative mostly in part as mark described with loss of trust in
government. in part the rise of a scandal culture. watergate really was a scandal but we now have a lot of people who try to use scdal to settle policy differences by other means. who take mini scandals and try to use them to got some policy edge or a political edge and i actually think we as a country have become overaddicted to scandal as a way to destroy other people. and that was in the supreme court hearings and that's in a lot of the scandals. so i think it's bred a politics of cynicism which reverberates without the actual substance of an action of corruption. >> just one thing to add, judy, and that is the three patriots who went to the president -- president nixon and told him he had to leave were republicans, barry goldwater of arizona, john rhodes, the republican house leader and hugh scott, the republican senate leader. it was a different time. >> woodruff: well, this is the time we are in now and we thank you both. mark shields, david brooks. >> bwn: and that bring t
our look back at watergate through our own very personal lens. first some context, as the scandal was unfolding in 1973, public broadcasting was still in its infancy. lyndon johnson had signed the public broadcasting act, which created pbs and npr, in 1967 and pbs was founded two years later. its mission, especially when it came to national public affairs programming, was very much still an open question when before the era of c-span, before cameras were regularly trained on the congress, a decision was made to present gavel-to-gavel coverage that would then be repeated that same evening. that was the backdrop, as the watergate hearings began 40 years ago today. >> good evening from washington. in a few moments we're going to bring you the entire proceedings in the first day of the senate watergate arings. eangs to bear the truth about the wide range of illegal, unethical or improper activities established or still merely alleged, surrounding the reelection of president nixon
of the historic senate hearings that would, a year later, lead to the resignation of an american president. it was also the start of something quite new for public broadcasting led by robert macneil and jim lehrer. >> we are running it all each day because we think these hearings are important and becse we think it is important that you get a chance to see the whole thing and make your own judgments. some nights we may be in competition with a late, late movie. we are doing this as an experiment, temporarily abandoning our ability to edit, to give you the whole story, however many hours it may take. >> brown: the botched break-in at democratic national committee headquarters in the watergate complex in washington d.c. had happened one year earlier. the special senate committee was t to build on reporti by bob woodward and carl bernstein of the "washington post" and reporters at other news organizations.
one key question was famously put by committee vice-chairman, republican howard baker. >> what did the president know, and when did he know it? >> brown: 40 years after democratic committee chair sam ervin, the self-described "old country lawyer" from north carolina, first gaveled the hearings into session, macneil and lehrer-- robin and jim to us-- returned to the same studio from which they'd broadcast in the summer of 1973 for more than 250 hours. did you have any idea what you were getting into at that moment, either for the nation or for your own futures? >> i think we did. remember, we broadcast live during the daytime as it happened. and then we completely repeated it, gavel to gavel. so it was a double-hit there. and that was a huge commitment for public broadcasting to make. and the reason they made it was because of this premise that the presidency of the united states was at stake.
now, not necessarily that it was going to end inhe rult of the impeachment of richard nixon. but it was going to be a rough time ahead for the whole country. >> brown: they were, in some ways, an unlikely duo. the canadian-born macneil began his journalism career with reuters before joining nbc and, later, the bbc. lehrer, born in wichita, kansas, had worked for newspapers in dallas, before hosting a local public affairs program. they were brought together in washington to work for the national public affairs center for television, or npact. >> it turned out, we were living quite close to each other in bethesda. we each had little daughters in the same kindergarten there. we became very good friends. >> we sure did, we had no choice. we had to be friends. we spent all day and all night together. >> we became very good friends. and colleagues.
and as the public perceived it, a team. >> brown: robin began each day's broadcast with a reading of the committee's 64 word openng reolutn. >> i thought that was a terrific thing. the first few, maybe the first 30 nights, i even teared up when i heard you. it was just-- it set the tone. >> it took it out oour hands to characterize what the hearis were about. that would all follow. but it gave the way the congress characterized it. what you're going to be able to watch this evening is a rare glimpse given by real adventurers into the world of mystery and intrigue we normally hear about only in spy novels.
>> brown: the hearings had gripping moments right from the start. on day two, watergate burglar james mccord, the former security director for the committee to re-elect president nixon, demonstrated how to bug a telephone. >> do you swear that the evidence that you shall give -- >> but the first real game- changer came in late june from john dean, former counsel to president nixon. reading aloud a 245 page statement, dean dropped a bombshell, alleging that the president had direct knowledge about the cover-up. >> i began by telli the president that there was a cancer growing othe presidency and if the cancer was not removed, the president himself would be killed by it. i also told him that it was important that this cancer be removed immediately because it was growing more deadly every day.
>> all right, the question of course is what more is there to say. regardless of the time zone where you live, it's very late. and the testimony of john w. dean iii has been very hot, despite the several gallons of water he consumed while reading that lengthy and very historical document of his. >> brown: you're watching things unfold. a lot of it is droning on, let's face it, right? and then something like that happens. >> and he talked for a very long time. you could hear a pin drop in that room the whole time he was talking. and my guess is, that throughout america it was the same. he was the showstopper. there was no question about it. >> some of these things came out quite unexpectedly. in a very casual, almost off- hand manner. >> everything is underlined nowadays. everything has arrows pointing at it. this is going to be a great day today and were likely to-- we didn't have any of that kind of buildup. the hearings spoke for themselves. >> brown: when the committee took breaks, guests would join robin and jim in the studio for analysis. >> mr. nixon has to do something i wouldnk
very serious charges that mr. dean made. >> brown: and at days end, the team put their own questions to committee members outside the hearing room. >> you may have noticed that >> i'm not tired, as a matter of fact the only thing that i object to now is that it cuts into my exercise schedule. >> brown: testimony continued, but by mid-july, there was still no proof that johdean had ben telling the truth. thats, untilred thompson, the chief republican counsel and a friend of senator baker's from tennessee, put questions to a little-known former white house aide named alexander butterfield. >> mr. butterfield, are you aware of any listening devices in the office of the president? >> i was aware of listening devices, yes sir. >> were you aware of any devices installed in the executive office building office of the president? >> yes sir.
>>ere theynstalled at the same time >> s si thewerenstaed the same time. >> well that was a bombshell. also, it became the bomb that eventually did destroy the presidency. >> butterfield revealed that all of president nixon's conversations in his two white house offices had been tape- recorded for the past two years. and so have his office phone conversations. the stunned ervin committee, which discovered this fact only last friday, immediately began planning to demand the tapes of the crucial watergate-related conversations. those tapes could settle once and for all how much the president knew and when. >> brown: after the butterfield revelation, the committee issued a subpoena for the tapes. but president nixon refused to release them. >> if you notice the president says he's heard the tapes, or some of them, and they sustain his position. but he says he's not going to let anybody else have them, for fear they might draw a different conclusion.
>> brown: by mid-summer, the commercial tv networks, which had all carried the hearings at the start, had in large part gone back to their regularly scheduled programming. for its part, public television wrestled with a different concern: the very idea of this kind of coverage had been controversial from the start. >> a lot of station managers in particular at that time of the public television community, that had grown out of educational television, didn't think that pbs should be in the news business at all. they thought we should be in culture and education. and the networks do news and current public affairs. >> brown: and not only that, but of course the political context of the administration, the nixon administration also thinking that public broadcasting shouldn't be in public affairs. >> not perhaps, very definitely they thought so. >> the nixon white house immediately charged that was not the sort of localism that public broadcasting was established to create. and pey
>> brown: indeed, the president's team had been campaigning for some time to undermine public television's credibility. an internal white house memo from november 1971 showed that officials planned to quietly encourage station managers throughout the country to put pressure on npact and the corporation for public broadcasting to stay out of the news business. so you were very aware of this. >> we were very aware and we were trying, and i think succeeding in being very even- handed about the nixon presidency. and i'd covered the president, i'd covered nixon for nbc and bbc for several years before all this came about. and i had done my best to be as evenhanded and fair-minded as i think we have gone on toake it an essential attribute of our program since. >> absolutely. and i think that's where it all
started. is with watergate. >> i think we knew immediately that public-- we and public television was doing something that commercial networks for all their brilliance in news wouldn't and couldn't do. couldn't destroy their evening programming for the watergate hearings. >> that s before there were things like c-span. going gavel-to-gavel, the way we were going, in the daytime and in particular repeating it at night. this had never happened before. >> brown: was there a point somewhere along the way where you realized hey this can work? i mean this being your partnership and what's happening on the picture. >> i think we realized that right away. >> we felt that right away. we felt two things. we felt that-- and we talked about it-- that there was role for public broadcasting. a serious, needed role within
public broadcasting to do news and public affairs type programming. and that we felt that we worked. in other words, that you and i cause-- even though he's a very sophisticated and i'm very unsophisticated, we were-- i was the country boy and he was the urban boy. but we were absolutely in sync about journalism. >> brown: the viewers agreed. mail started pouring in by the bagful, some 70,000 letters expressing support for public television's coverage. >> suddenly, this new public television, which very few people knew anything about... >> brown: right. >> suddenly the whole nation seemed to know about it. and, for many, many stations who carried it both in the daytime and again in the evening, their audiences doubled, tripled, quadrupled. and people spontaneously began to send money to the public television, taking up memberships in the stations. >> brown: did you feel that the future in some sense of public television was riding on this? was it that strong?
>> we were so busy doing it that... >> and we were so enthralled by the hearings. as were everybody i've spoken to. >> it was a peanut, just like eating peanuts. >> brown: meanwhile, on july 31, the senate hearings took another sharp turn. >> good evening. h.r. haldeman, often described as once the most powerful man next to president nixon, today politely and modestly denied a long catalog of charges by others witnesses implicating him in watergate. >> president nixon had no knowledge of, or involvement in either the watergate affair itself or the subsequent efforts of a cover-up of the watergate. it will be equally clear despite all the unfounded allegations to the contrary, that i had no such knowledge or involvement. >> brown: unless the tapes are made public or some other revelation should come, the senators as well as the rest of us who are following are going to have to eventually make a
choice of believing john dean or bob haldeman. that's the way it looks to me at least, at 3:00 or so in the morning. feel free to disagree. >> 3:00 or so in the morning. >> we're working day and night and that explains why i have not gotten a haircut. >> brown: that's what you most notice now, 40 years later. >> how could i have let my hair go that way, as they say. what's so interesting here, just as a matter of history, we laid it out. i mean unless those tapes become public, that argument could continue to flow. but the tapes did become public and then suddenly boom, it was all over with. >> brown: by the end of the summer, the hearings began to wind down, as the fight over the tapes shifted to the courts. the following july, the u.s. supreme court ordered president nixon to turn over 64 watergate- related tapes and documents and the house judiciary committee began its formal public debate on articles of impeachment
against the president. once it became clear he would not survive an impeachment vote on the house floor, president nixon announced his resignation. >> i shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow. >> brown: many years later, what do you think the impact that atergate was on this nation. how do you-- can you sum it up? >> the way i would sum it up is that its good news, bad news situation. it showed the government of the united states at its absolute worst and then it showed it at its absolute best. it corrected a wrongdoing, a series of wrongdoings that was unprecedented. but the way it corrected was also a series of unprecedented doings. >> brown: what about the impact it had on you personally, and professionally? >> well it made us a team. people perceived us as a team
and suggested we do a nightly program. >> what happened 40 years ago, made possible what we've done for the last 40 years, professional journalists. no question about it. >> brown: what have they done? well, the "robert macneil report"-- soon to become the "macneil/lehrer report"-- was launched in 1975. a partnership, a format, an approach that has seen some changes or ti, yes, but l directly to the program you're watching today. 40 years after robin and jim first teamed up to cover the watergate hearings. online you can find much more of our watergate anniversary coverage, including stories you've shared with us about how the senate hearings affected you, a look at where some of the key players are today and historic footage recapping the showstopping moments from the summer of 1973. that's all on our homepage.
>> brown again, the major developments of the day: the outgoing acting head of the i.r.s. faced sharp questions from lawmakers over his agency's improper targeting of conservative groups. at least 76 people were killed in iraq in the deadliest day there in more than eight months. and defense secretary hagel formally ordered the military to re-certify thousands of people involved in programs on sexual assaults in the ranks. online, the timeless allure of the great gatsby. hari sreenivasan has more. >> sreenivasan: once again, f. scott fitgerald's classic novel captivates modern audiences on the big screen. what's behind the phenomenon? listen to our conversation on art beat. tonight on "need to know," while the number of illegal border crossings has plummeted, just as many people are still dying while trying to enter in the u.s. from mexico. all that and more is on our website newshour.pbs.org. judy? >> woodruff: and that's the "newshour" for tonight. on monday, we'll look at what i'm judy woodruff. >> brown: and i'm jeffrey brown. "washington week" can be seen later this evening on most pbs stations. we'll see you online and again here monday evening. have a nice weekend. thanks for joining us. good night.
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>> rose: welcome to the program. we begin tonight with the controversies plaguing president obama's second term. joining me, al hunt of "bloomberg news." karen tumulty of "washington post," and jessica yellin of cnn. >> best thing he has going for him is the republicanes and the one of the problems created this week they for the first time in a long timere united on all three of these issues. what he should be most worried about-- when i'm afraid he's not-- is the insularity of this white house. >> we continue with dan brown. his latest book is "inferno." i write about the vatican and